Written by 5:00 am Audiophile

The Disconnect Between the Way It Is and the Way We’d Like It to Be

Paul Wilson contemplates the difficult choices all audiophiles must make

There are all manner of trade-offs in life, and in many cases we may not especially like doing something in a particular method or fashion, but we endure them nonetheless. For instance, I wish every traffic light I approach would always be green, but somehow that condition always fails me.  

Trade-offs.jpgIn high-end audio we have certain rules and guidelines that are tried, tested, proven, accepted and practiced by audiophiles whenever possible. Despite being known and accepted, sometimes following the rules proves difficult.

Probably the most obvious is the ever present, never ending struggle between what we might like to spend on a system and what we can afford to spend on a system.  How many audiophiles have a component that, despite however pleased with it they might be, would not like the better model, the one with better specs that produces better sound. Because of other financial constraints, that better thing is placed on the “wish list.”

Another glaring dichotomy is the amount of space a system can easily occupy. Sure, there are those fortunate enough to have a dedicated listening room, free from all but the required “accoutrementds” (French accent please) for listening to music. Reality swings differently and finds most audiophiles force-fitting their system intothe great room, or anyplace they’d rather it not be, along with all the other “stuff” surrounding it. I have a friend whose wife told him his bookshelf speakers actually needed to go on the bookshelf. Imagine that.

Rack-Beside-Speakers.jpgPlacement of components on the rack has governing rules that should be followed. For instance, it is advisable that power amps should be placed close to, or on the floor and not too close to other components. One reason for this is that the transformer in the amp may radiate a sonic hum that might be picked up by other components and carried into the signal chain. While no audiophile wants to listen to a hum, what do you do if your available space means you are forced to sit the preamp, or some other component, on top of the amp?

There are others as well. Like the rule of thumb that dictates that an audio rack should never be in between the speakers, but rather to one side of the speakers. One common, accepted reason for this is that a system between the speakers negatively affects soundstage and imaging. Those curious as to why such placement doesn’t happen all so often please see the fourth paragraph. Think about it, how many pictures of audio systems have we all seen on various websites that show the system right smack dab between the speakers?

Rule-Of-Thirds.jpgSpeaking of speakers, the practice of proper speaker placement is very specific, almost scientific, in order to achieve the best sonics. There are countless numbers of resources devoted to speaker set up. Things like starting with an equilateral triangle between the listener and the two speakers, no furniture between the listener and the speakers, and no glass on the wall(s) beside the speakers are almost sacrosanct for ideal placement and sonics. Yet here I am with two chairs and a coffee table between me and the Blades, and nine feet of glass patio doors to the left of the system. Worse still, I’m not really able to change things.

Ever heard of the Rule of Thirds? This is a suggestion that the speakers be one third of the way into the room from the back and sidewalls. It should be noted that there is debate about this practice but in this case, that’s not the point. The point is how many people can apply this rule or even some variant of it? If I were to do that in my house, the speakers would be sitting on the couch with me. Can’t wait to try that.

Another one I don’t follow is the rule that a TV should never be between the speakers. Come on, there’s no fun in that, right? How many audiophiles enjoy watching a ball game on Saturday afternoon with their feet on the coffee table (that’s not supposed to be there) with the TV volume all the way down and the audio system volume turned up? On the other hand, if your TV is positioned in this way, try throwing a blanket over your TV one day and see if anything happens to the imaging. If so, you’ll understand the reason for the rule.

TV-Between-Speakers.jpgAnother aspect of the audiophile lifestyle, and one that wives really love, are room treatments. If you don’t know the unbelievable difference room treatments can make then you are missing out on improved sonics. Tell your wife that very thing just before installing the acoustical wall and ceiling panels and the bass traps. Better still, tell her about improved sonics just before removing her favorite picture from the wall because you are trying to avoid high-frequency reflections. She’ll be fine with that, I assure you. 

There are, in almost every walk of our daily lives, things we would like but don’t do or obtain for various reasons. We might like that better set of speakers but can’t afford them. We might like that awesome set of monoblocks but don’t have the room for them. We might really wish to remove the chairs and coffee table but can’t for any number of worthwhile reasons. Our audio life is just as full of compromise as every other aspect of our lives. And just like the stoplights that will inevitably catch me when driving the car, the best we can do is just learn to live with things we can’t really do anything about. Sometimes, it’s just the way it is.

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